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Chapter 16 Positive Psychology. The Scope of Positive Psychology, continued . Defining positive psychology and its brief history

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Chapter 16

Positive Psychology

the scope of positive psychology continued
The Scope of Positive Psychology, continued

Defining positive psychology and its brief history

  • Positive psychology – “is a social and intellectual movement within the discipline of psychology that focuses on human strengths and how people can flourish and be successful”.
the scope of positive psychology continued1
The Scope of Positive Psychology, continued

History, continued

  • Identified in 1998 by Martin Seligman, positive psychology serves as a counterweight to the field’s negatively-oriented history.
    • Since WWII, psychology has adhered to the “disease model” to treat stress and disorders associated with the modern world.
    • Seligman argues people should learn to see their lives as fulfilling, rather than stress-ridden and dysfunctional.
the scope of positive psychology continued2
The Scope of Positive Psychology, continued

Reconsidering older research in light of the new positive psychology

  • Positive psychology does represent a turning point for the field
  • However, many of the main ideas are similar those of humanistic psychology, which has been present since the 1950s.
the scope of positive psychology continued3
The Scope of Positive Psychology, continued

Introducing positive psychology’s three lines of inquiry

  • Positive psychology pursues three main “legs” on which the field stands:
    • Positive subjective experiences (good moods, happiness, and love).
    • Positive individual traits (character strengths and virtues).
    • Positive institutions (families, schools, & supportive work environments).
Figure 16.1. The three legs of positive psychology. Research in positive psychology stands on “three legs” or lines of empirical, scientific inquiry: positive subjective experiences, positive individual traits, and positive institutions.
positive subjective experiences continued
Positive Subjective Experiences, continued

Positive moods

Moods are “global, pervasive responses to experiences”.

Being in a good mood has several beneficial effects, including

Making people more agreeable.

Making people more helpful.

Making people better decision-makers.

positive subjective experiences continued1
Positive Subjective Experiences, continued

Positive moods, continued

Positive moods can promote creative solutions

Isen et al (1987) found that participants who watched a funny film were better able to solve the “candle task” (see Figure 16.2).

positive subjective experiences continued2
Positive Subjective Experiences, continued

Positive moods are linked with quick thoughts

Faster thinking is associated with more positive mood, whereas slower thinking is associated with more negative mood (Pronin, Jacobs, and Wegner,2008).

See Figure 16.4 for study details.

Variability of thought also affects mood.

Varied thoughts are associated with positive mood; repetitive thoughts are associated with negative mood.

Figure 16.4. Results of the self-generated ideas, speed of thought, and mood experiment. Participants in the fast-thinking condition of the experiment generated more ideas in the allotted time than did their peers (see the graph on the far left). And as expected, the fast-thinkers also reported thinking faster than those in the slow-thinking group. The crucial results are shown in the two graphs on the right. As you can see, those in the fast-thinking group also reported having a more positive mood and high levels of energy than those in the slow-thinking group.

Adapted from Pronin, E., & Jacobs, E. (2008). Thought speed, mood, and the experience of mental motion. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 3, 461-485, Figure 3.

positive subjective experiences continued3
Positive Subjective Experiences, continued

Positive emotions

Emotions – “are powerful, largely uncontrollable feelings, accompanied by physiological changes”.

Positive emotions – “consist of pleasant responses to events that promote connections with others, including subjective states like happiness, joy, euphoria, gratitude, or contentment”.

positive subjective experiences continued4
Positive Subjective Experiences, continued

Positive emotions, continued.

Negative emotions – “consist of unpleasant responses to potential threats or dangers, including subjective states like sadness, disgust, anger, guilt, and fear”.

Historically, negative emotions have been studied more than positive ones because

They are of evolutionary significance.

They are part of the “fight-or-flight” response.

There are so many of them.

positive subjective experiences continued5
Positive Subjective Experiences, continued

Positive emotions, continued

Barbara Fredrickson developed the broaden-and-build model of positive emotions to explain how they benefit us.

Positive emotions

Elicit nonspecific action tendencies that lead to adaptive responses (e.g., helping people in need when we are happy).

Broaden cognitive processes by promoting thought-action tendencies (e.g. children become imaginative when feeling joy).

positive subjective experiences continued6
Positive Subjective Experiences, continued

Positive emotions, continued.

Fredrickson an Branigan (2005) showed that joy increased participants’ thought-action tendencies (see Figure 16.5).

Thus, “the broaden-and-build model proposes than positive emotions broaden people’s outlooks and then builds on subsequent learning in order to develop future emotional and intellectual resources”.

Figure 16.5. The broadening effects of positive emotions compared to neutral or negative emotions. Experiencing an emotional state of joy or contentment led research participants to list a greater number of activities they might like to engage in at that moment in time compared to individuals experiencing a neutral or negative emotional state.

Adapted from Fredrickson, B. L. (2002). Positive emotions. In C. R. Snyder & S. J. Lopez (Eds.), Handbook of positive psychology (pp. 120-134). New York: Oxford University Press, Figure 9.2, p. 125.

positive subjective experiences continued7
Positive Subjective Experiences, continued

Positive emotions, continued

Fredrickson has developed the undoing hypothesis, which posits that “positive emotions aid the mind and the body by recovering a sense of balance and flexibility following an episode experiencing negative emotion”.

When stressed, positive emotions undo the aftereffects of the stressor more quickly, for example.

positive subjective experiences continued8
Positive Subjective Experiences, continued


Flow – “the state of being wherein a person becomes fully involved and engage in the present time by some interesting, challenging, and intrinsically rewarding activity”.

When in this state, people become

Less self-aware and lose all track of time.

Focus all their energies and attention on an activity where skill and challenge are in balance.

positive subjective experiences continued9
Positive Subjective Experiences, continued

Flow, continued

Finding flow

According to Csikszentmihalyi, we find flow when engaged in activities that have the ideal balance of challenge and skill level (see Figure 16.8).

Once these criteria are met, the activity becomes intrinsically rewarding, produces positive emotions, and promotes goal attainment and achievement.

Figure 16.8. The revised model of flow state. According to the revised model, flow is experienced when a person’s perceived challenges and skills are above the person’s average levels; when they fall below, the individual experiences apathy. The intensity of the experience increases as the distance from the person’s average levels of challenge and skills grows greater (illustrated here by the concentric rings).

Adapted from Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1997). Finding flow. New York: Basic Books.

positive subjective experiences continued10
Positive Subjective Experiences, continued

Flow, continued

Does everyone find flow?

Csikszentmihalyi finds that about 20% of respondents in American and European samples say they experience flow several times a day.

Around 15% have never reported this experience.

positive subjective experiences continued11
Positive Subjective Experiences, continued


Mindfulness – refers “to a cultivated perspective wherein people are sensitive to context and focused on the present”.

When mindful, we

Resist the impulse to control uncertainty.

Are less prone to evaluate ourselves.

Are in a more flexible state of mind.

positive subjective experiences continued12
Positive Subjective Experiences, continued

Mindfulness, continued

We can become more mindful by

Meditating (especially if attention is directed in a nonanalytical and nonemotional way).

See Figure 16.9 for a list of mindfulness qualities that can enter one’s consciousness during meditation.

Experiencing natural surroundings.

Figure 16.9. Some qualities associated with mindfulness meditation. People who learn mindfulness meditation can expect to derive some benefits from the activity. As you can see, the qualities listed here that are associated with mindfulness meditation fit well with established themes in positive psychology.

Adapted from Shapiro, S. J., Schwartz, G. E. R., & Santerre, C. (2002). Meditation and positive psychology. In C. R. Snyder & S. J. Lopez (Eds.), The handbook of positive psychology (pp. 632-645). New York: Oxford University Press. Table 46.1, p. 640.

positive individual traits continued
Positive Individual Traits, continued

Positive individual traits “refer to dispositional qualities that account for why some people are happier and psychologically healthier than other people”.

Four traits have been the focus of much study:





positive individual traits continued1
Positive Individual Traits, continued

Hope: achieving future goals

Hope is “people’s expectations that their goals can be achieved in the future”.

Synder argues it has two components:

Agency – “a person’s judgment that his or her goals can be achieved”.

Pathways – “realistic roadmaps to achieving the goal”.

The Trait Hope Scale assesses each and indicates a person’s degree of hope (see Figure 16.10).

Figure 16.10. Synder’s Trait Hope Scale. According to C. R. Snyder, as a trait, hope has two characteristics: agency and pathways. To determine your Agency subscale score, sum items 2, 9, 10, and 12: the Pathways subscale score is derived by adding items 1, 4, 6, and 8. The total Hope Scale Score is derived by summing the four Agency and the four Pathway items. A higher total score (Agency items added to Pathways items) reflects a greater degree of hope for the future. Scores can range from 8 to 64. In six samples of college students studied by Snyder et al. (1991), the average score was 25.

From Snyder, C. R., Harris, C., Anderson, J. R., Holeran, S. A., Irving, L. M., Sigmon, S. T., Yoshinobu, L., Gibb, J., Langelle, C., & Harney, P. (1991). The will and the ways: Development and validation of an individual-differences measure of hope. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 60, 570-585.

positive individual traits continued2
Positive Individual Traits, continued

Hope, continued

Hopeful people reap many benefits:

Experience more positive emotions.

Expect to be better off in the future.

Believe that they will be able to handle stress better.

Are more likely to be flexible thinkers.

Are more likely to have social support.

positive individual traits continued3
Positive Individual Traits, continued

Resilience: reacting well to life’s challenges

Resilience – is “a person’s ability to recover and often prosper following some consequential life event”.

Some people even display posttraumatic growth, or “enhanced personal strength” following trauma.

While resilience helps people rebound to pre-trauma levels, posttraumatic growth actually causes enhanced functioning, post-trauma.

positive individual traits continued4
Positive Individual Traits, continued

Gratitude: the power of being thankful

Gratitude – “entails recognizing and concentrating on the good tings in one’s life and being thankful for them”.

Psychological consequences of gratitude are

Enhanced social connections with others.

Extended positive affect.

Feelings of joy and contentment.

positive individual traits continued5
Positive Individual Traits, continued

Spirituality: seeking a deeper meaning

Spiritual individuals possess a strong desire to search for the sacred and usually describe themselves as religious.

However, religion (or religiosity) and spirituality are distinct concepts.

Religion refers to activity in organized communities (such as churches or temples).

Spirituality refers, generally, to the human need for a deeper truth or meaning.

positive individual traits continued6
Positive Individual Traits, continued

Spirituality: seeking a deeper meaning

Religion, continued

Participating in a religious community appears to enhance well-being (Myers, 2000).

Religious people

Have higher levels of optimism, which is linked to well-being.

Enjoy the benefits of social support from their religious community.

positive institutions continued
Positive Institutions, continued
  • Positive institutions – “are those organizations that cultivate civic virtue, encouraging people to behave like good citizens while promoting the collective good”.
  • Positive workplaces
    • There is a new movement known as “positive organizational behavior” (POB), dedicated to improving worker performance.
positive institutions continued1
Positive Institutions, continued
  • Positive workplaces, continued
    • Wrzensniewski (1997) found that workers view their occupations in one of three ways:
      • Just a “job”.
      • Career.
      • Work as a “calling”.
        • This group view their work as a means for personal fulfillment and social purpose.
positive institutions continued2
Positive Institutions, continued
  • Positive schools
    • School satisfaction, or “students’ judgments about their holistic school experiences” is comprised of
      • Cognition – what students believe about their educational experiences; and
      • Affect – students’ positive and negative emotions in educational settings.
    • School satisfaction is a good predictor of academic progress as early as kindergarten.
positive institutions continued3
Positive Institutions, continued
  • Positive families
    • A new approach, called family-centered positive psychology (FCPP), maintains that
      • The family is the constant in a child’s life.
      • Practitioners should promote healthy family functioning.
      • Families themselves are better at determining their needs than are professionals.
problems and prospects continued
Problems and Prospects, continued


  • Positive psychology has been criticized on the following grounds:
    • Some question whether its ideas are really new.
      • Is it truly a paradigm shift?
    • Some question whether it is merely a passing fad.
problems and prospects continued1
Problems and Prospects, continued


  • However, positive psychology will be best judged by
    • The research findings that are uncovered.
    • The successful applications that emerge.
problems and prospects continued2
Problems and Prospects, continued
  • Prospects, continued
  • Linley and colleagues (2006) suggest its future will be brightest if positive psychology can
    • Borrow knowledge from humanistic psychology.
    • Examine positive phenomena by integrating knowledge from cultural, social, and neuroscience fields.
    • Admit that its findings prescribe a certain lifestyle.
application your own happiness continued
Application: Your Own Happiness,continued

Counting your blessings for a week

  • Look on the bright side by – literally – counting the good things that happen to you.
  • Peterson (2006) suggests these guidelines:
    • Limit to three a day.
    • Write your list at the end of the day.
    • Write down the reasons why your choices constitute good things for your life.
  • People who do this have fewer depressive symptoms.
application your own happiness continued1
Application: Your Own Happiness,continued

Writing and delivering a gratitude letter

  • Expressing gratitude to people who have helped us in life can be a very meaningful experience.
  • To get the most out of it, you should
    • Write an actual letter (no texts or emails!).
    • Deliver it in person, if possible.
    • Follow up with a phone call or talk to the individual in person.
application your own happiness continued2
Application: Your Own Happiness,continued

Sharing a story illustrating the best in you

  • Have you ever “done the right thing” but didn’t want to brag?
  • Let this be one of the rare times that you disclose your private good deed.
  • You could
    • Write an essay that is shared with the rest of the class.
    • Post your story online.
application your own happiness continued3
Application: Your Own Happiness,continued

Sharing good news and capitalizing with others

  • Capitalizing – “refers to telling other people about whatever good things are happening in our own lives.
  • Others’ reaction to our good news boosts positive emotions in us, which capitalizes on the good feelings we already have.